Relax Your Mind transcription

Update 3 days later: see Corrections for a version of the notation which ordinary mortals can read.

I put some time this morning into figuring out the guitar riffs on a
tune called “Relax Your Mind” by Leadbelly, aka Huddie Ledbetter. It
took some sweat so I figured I’d share the result for other people
to use.

Here’s an MP3 of the riff: MP3 of the riff.

This is how to play the part:

Relax Your Mind transcription

Notice that the part is in the very unusual key of C#. I think
Leadbelly tuned the guitar down a minor third, so that the E string
was C#, the A string was
F#, etc. Since I don’t tune like that I modified the lowest note in
the piece from low C# to C# an octave above that, on the 4th fret of
the A string. If you feel like tuning down, the note I changed is the first
one in bar 4.

The chords for the song are the same throughout: C#, C#7, F#, C#, C#, G#7,
C#. It’s an eight-bar pattern rather a 12-bar pattern like bar bands
usually do.

If you want to tweak the sheet music and have Sibelius (the
software I use for notation), here is the source Sibelius file: Sibelius
source file

If you use a digital instrument instead of the analog kind, here’s a MIDI
version of my transcription: MIDI
version of my transcription

A cool thing about this song is that it’s about road rage, even
though it was written way back in the 1930s. He’s saying that when
you’re getting pissed off about driving you need to take a deep
breath. Given that he was a full bore murderer, I think he knew about
road rage.

His musical ideas here are strongly influenced by ragtime and early
jazz. He leans on chromatic runs that are close cousins of boogie
woogie. The phrasing is so intricate that in one cadence he touches
almost every pitch in an octave without doing more than three
adjacent semitones.

I probably muffed a couple notes in my transcription, so please
share any corrections you come up with.

I found the original recording on MOG and on YouTube.

3 replies on “Relax Your Mind transcription”

A fun song! Here’s a little more about it from Smithsonian Folkways: “According to Fred Ramsey, Leadbelly had been prompted by the National Automobile Safety Council to write the song as an advertisement for the organization. They ultimately turned down his offering (Lead Belly Letter 5, no. 2, Winter 1995). His spoken comments from 1948 still ring true in the modern world of distracted driving.”

Ben, that’s a cool nugget to know. Thanks for it.

When I play this song live I say it’s one of the few pro-road-rage numbers.

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